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To 3D, Or Not 3D? Nintendo 3DS Review

Despite near-universal praise from the gaming press, my first 3DS impression was a bit mixed. While I appreciated Nintendo’s efforts to give the aging DS hardware line a much-need boost of processing power, the unit’s three-dimensional effect only sporadically worked for me. With the hardware awkwardly tethered to a model, the sensation of depth was intermittent. Months later at a press event, the 3DS offered a slightly better impression, yet still seemed to occasionally drift out of focus.

The problem can be attributed to operator error. What the Nintendo hostess and PR reps neglected to advise me was that the illusion of 3D works best when the unit is ten to fourteen inches from your eyes. In an effort to not look like a total geek, I was holding the 3DS similar to the way I enjoy the DS hardware- a coolly detached, arm’s-length away. Bringing the unit closer to my face, I was able to see the undeniable attraction of Nintendo’s new portable.

The 3D Effect

Depending on the software, the illusion of gaming in three dimensions ranges from flawless to stable, with occasional interruptions. Unquestionably, Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition is the unit’s showcase title. With the 3D slider raised, the game resembles a diminutive diorama where two fully articulated action figures are engaged in heated combat. Where some 3DS titles divulge their pixels through aliasing, many of Street Fighter IV‘s backgrounds offer seamless, unpixelated planes of depth. Ridge Racer 3D‘s sensation of depth is also impressive, with passing environmental objects having a fullness about them. Whereas many stereoscopic 3D games (such as the Invincible Tiger: The Legend of Han Tao) have presented paper-thin characters which interacted on different planes, objects in 3DS games have true depth to them. 

Regrettably, even when the 3DS is within the recommended viewing range, the illusion of a three dimensional playfield occasional falters. LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars shakes the screen when a large explosion occurs, temporarily disrupting the effect. Although Madden Football performed well, ghosting of objects was infrequently noticeable, especially for brightly colored objects.

Hardware and Bundled Apps

Much like it’s imminent rival, the Sony NGP, the Nintendo 3DS is brimming with features; a week after unboxing, the unit is still revealing its nuances. With the twin 1/3 MP cameras on the portable’s front face; owners can snap both 2D and 3D photos, which are initiated with a button press, timer countdown or even a voice command. After the picture is taken it can be doodled on in a rudimentary paint app, or placed in a slideshow. While the low resolution of the camera means photos can be a bit grainy, the three dimensional effect is impressive when a snapshot with varying distanced objects is taken. The 3DS Sound app allows owners to capture and play recordings from the bundled 2GB SD card.  Cleverly, users can tap the shoulder button to mix in snares or toms, or cycle through visualizers which pay tribute to Exitebike and the old Game and Watch handhelds. 

Although Mii Maker doesn’t differ wildly from the Wii’s avatar system, the ability for the system to create a persona from a photo is an elegant touch. More entertaining is the 3DS’s AR Games arena, which lets owners play a collection of energetic mini-games. By placing a card of in front of the portable’s camera, the 3DS is able to craft imaginary objects in real space, recalling the combatants from Eye of Judgment. Players can opt to create photos with posable Nintendo figures, or play archery, fishing, and a billiards/golf hybrid. Seeing the game transform a flat surface such as a table into a hilly knoll flanked by lava ponds is quite an amazing feat- hopefully, Nintendo will continue to deliver on these initial prospects.

With a limited number of 3DS’s in current circulation, I was unable to fully test the functionality of the unit’s StreetPass component- yet, what’s there appears promising. With units in sleep mode- passing within 98 feet of another 3DS unit should trigger an optional exchange of Mii’s- and activate elements embedded in up to a dozen games. Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition stages a statistical battle with collectable figurine teams, while Ridge Racer 3D swaps ghost data. With the portable’s built in pedometer, each step a player makes generates in-game currency. There’s even comprehensive tracking- which charts each stride as well as the duration of the last 256 games you’ve played.

Often, the 3DS user interface feels like a home console-based experience. At anytime, players can press the home button to check on their battery life, Wi-Fi connectivity, or the number of steps they’ve taken, with their game conveniently paused.  Regrettably, the system’s menus have limited input redundancy- a tap of the stylus always works, but users can’t access all of the 3DS’s functionality via the directional pad. Naturally, the system does have a few additional niggling oversights. The top screen is fastened a bit too loosely, periodically closing when a vigorous upward motion was performed in AR Games Fishing. Although the game’s internal speakers recall the power and clarity of the DSiXL’s output, when headphones are connected the unit’s maximum volume is woefully subdued. Lastly, I’m not a fan of the system’s flush select, home, and start buttons- without solid tactile feedback, pausing a game felt uncertain.


Undoubtedly, the 3DS’s $250 price tag commands consideration, placing the hardware in the same price range as premium home consoles. Yet, given the unit’s thoughtful design and capabilities, paying an extra hundred dollars for 3D, a higher resolution top screen, and extra processing power seems entirely reasonable. With titles which converge on the depth and attractiveness of existing home-based systems, the 3DS is destined to change players perceptions and expectations of portable systems. Stay tuned for reviews of the unit’s launch lineup, as the hardware’s March 27th release date draws near.  


About Robert Allen

With over 35 years of gaming experience, Robert 'DesertEagle' Allen is Tech-Gaming's resident worrier/warrior who spends his days teaching at three colleges and his nights devoted to JRPGs.


  1. Knife in the Eye


    Looks great Deagle! I’m pretty jealous you are playing already.

  2. Hawked my DSi to get some preorder money on one. Sounds like I made the right choice.

  3. Didn’t SeanNOLA once say that people who get hardware early were kind of biased? While the review seems fair, I can’t get that out of my mind.

  4. HeadGamerInCharge

    Great overview, guys! Quick what the the launch titles to get.

  5. Stretch Armstrong

    Too bad no one is taking preorders anymore. le sigh.

    Thanks, for getting me all excited.

  6. Hows the analog nub? Tight or loose?

  7. As Sunday comes, I’m getting closer to pulling the trigger.

    People, I think a preorder isn’t necessary- there will be plenty.

  8. BTW- People TRU is having a buy 1 get one 50% off sale this Sunday on the games.

  9. Hows the new stylus feel? It doesn’t collapse on its own does it?

  10. “or cycle through visualizers which pay tribute to Exitebike and the old Game and Watch handhelds.”


  11. You don’t have to answer, but I hear this plays R4 cards. Please let me know if it does.

  12. How the your old DS games look? Do they take up the whole screen?

  13. Sorry, but I’m waiting until a game I really want it out, instead of just rushing to buy the hardware because it says “Nintendo” on it.

  14. – Hows the battery life (especially when using sleep mode? Ars said it wasn’t so hot.

    – Get any headaches or fatigue when playing in 3D for long period of time?

    – Analog nub? Can you use it in DS games (Like RPGs?)

  15. It has roughly the same amount of spring as the PSP’s nub. When playing Ridge Racer 3D control always felt intuitive, while in SSFIV, I could even pull off quarter-circles without a struggle.

  16. Deagle, you got “Fountain on Dreams” on your DS music list? pretty damn nerdy.

  17. FAP FAP FAP!

  18. 1) As long as you charge it fully before leaving for the day, it’s not a problem. Sleep mode can last for a few days before the battery drains.

    2) No problems at all. Of course, I would take Nintendo’s recommendation and take breaks every hour or so.

    3) I’ll check that out today. Good question!

  19. Video not working.

  20. great overview Desert!

    I’m still on the fence, but your info was helpful.

  21. It’s still rendering on Youtube’s end.

  22. How many AR games are there altogether?

  23. I can see it!

  24. Hold a 3DS 12 inches in front of your face would seem like it would make your arms sore after a while.

  25. The wait for the NGP just got tougher. I can wait it out, though. right?

  26. Have two preordered along with Ridge Racer and SSFIV! I can’t wait.

  27. that’s the way I play DS right now. A bit of arm toning I guess.

  28. Getting close to trading my DSi in. But I’ll lose my downloaded games right?

  29. Man, I want one of these!

  30. good write-up, Desert. So you recommend buying one at launch?

  31. Wow, I really want to get one of these, but $250 is a big expense for me right now.

  32. Do want!

  33. Really good review, Deagle. You almost convinced me to buy one at launch. Hell I’ll probay break down this Sunday.

  34. Just let me know if ghost recon is worth picking up. Stat.

  35. How do you get the watermark effect at the beginning?

  36. Cool, but I think I’ll wait for the NGP to bite the bullet.

  37. I like your descriptions. Since you can’t show people 3D, tell them what’s it’s like. DToid had a similar review but it was way too long, and not as good.

  38. You mentioned some things I hadn’t heard before like the top screen and the volume.

  39. Thats pretty easy to do with a video editor. Deagle which one are you using?

  40. Last day for preorders from GS is tomorrow BTW. I just called.

  41. How much of a fingerprint magnet is it?

    Are there any screen protectors for it? Like a Hori?

  42. Maybe Once Oot gets here. I’ll consider it.

  43. I hope it works better than Eye of Judgement did!

  44. IGN called the battery life “abysmal” and said the hardware is flawed? Sounds like you don’t agree.

  45. No score? At least you guys didn’t 7.5 it.

  46. thanks for the info. I’ve been waiting for this since the E3 announcement. I cant believe it almost here.

  47. Cool, but not 250 cool.

  48. “abysmal” would be less than 2 hours. From what I heard it’s more than 3 hours.

  49. I think there are some. Hopefully, the guys will do some reviews.

  50. It could be me, but I wish the system looked less like the DS.

  51. Ok, preordered one last night but I was told they might not be able to get enough in at my local Gamestop. What other retailers in Colorado should I scope out?

  52. Is the 3DS heavier than the 3DS lite?

  53. How about a contest guys? Cmon!

  54. $250 is way too much. They’re saying the NGP will be the same price.

  55. tempting. I just want to try one out in person and see if my eyes can handle it 😉

  56. They tried to give me $50 for my DSlite, saying that was a special. They turn around and sell them for double. Nothing special about that.

  57. Man, I don’t get IGN somtimes They hypeomethng to he moon, then find some minor minor problems, then give it a 7.5 and don’t really explain why.

  58. got my money saved for the NGP. Nintendo just recycles their games now. Who wants to bet there will be a Mario Kart, Super Mario Bros, and a ton of other rehashed, just in 3D.

    It prints money again.

  59. I’ll wait until there’s more games on it.

  60. Yeah, I was hoping for something more iphone/iPad looking.

  61. I can see that you are an expert in this field! I am launching a website soon, and this information is very useful for me. Thanks for all your help and wishing you all the success in your seems to be nice collection of plus size clothes since many of my friends are plus size and she didn’t find there choice of clothes so i think it would be nice option for them.

  62. N-intendo found
    3-ways to

  63. You should have said this was a fingerprint machine inside and out!

  64. A week later, how crosseyed are you?!?

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  66. thanks for the info. I’ve been waiting for this since the E3 announcement. I cant believe it almost here.

  67. Man, this place is turning into IGN with the spam-ads



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